A shot for India's offline revolution

Apr 22, 2014, 09:11 IST | Hassan M Kamal

A new tech start-up aims to revolutionise mobile content and stop piracy by making digital content available offline

Eighteen-year-old Naseem Sheikh (name changed on request) owns a smartphone. This mechanic uses his 3G-enabled phone to play games, watch movies and listen to music. He has never used his smartphone to browse the Internet or download an app, yet his phone has all the latest games. How come? He relies on the services of a mobile shop nearby, which uploads pirated songs, videos and apps at a nominal cost.

Shotformats also offers homegrown premium mobile security and protection services at an extra price

According to industry reports, there are over 6.7 crore smartphone users in India, but out of this number, only 15% have downloaded an app. Sheikh belongs to the remaining 85% Indians who rely either on their peers or buy pirated content: a problem that costs several crores to the Indian entertainment industry, annually.

This revelation prompted Shotformats, a venture-capital funded start-up to find ways to reach the 5.5 crore users, like Sheikh. It’s how Biscoot, a digital currency was born. Shotformats uses Biscoot to sell original digital content — music, videos, apps, games, ebooks and more at a low price.

Every app sold through Biscoot needs to be activated to run on a mobile device. Pics/Hassan M Kamal

How it works?
The model pushes original digital content through establishments selling mobile phones or prepaid vouchers, including grocery shops. A buyer selects a product from the Biscoot catalogue, and the retailer transfers it in his phone memory either using a computer or through wireless services like Bluetooth. “The content is priced low: R30 will get you 30 songs or a film of HD quality, go a bit higher, up to R300, you get a pack of utility apps and games, among others. One can also purchase ready-to-use SMS packs, ebooks and more,” says Manish Kothari, circle head, Shotformats.

The model not only makes digital content available offline but also prevents piracy. “Every product is available only as an app, which can be installed on any mobile device — iOS, Android or Blackberry. But it needs activation to run on a device. Without activation, the app is useless,” adds Kothari. The activation can be done either by the user using their Biscoot prepaid account (the price is deducted from the user’s account) or by the retailer after paying the price of the pack in cash. Biscoot currency is available as top-up cards similar to prepaid vouchers, in denominations varying from Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs 500 to Rs 1,000.

Niyati Shah, CEO and Manish Kothari, circle head, Shotformats

Market matters
According to Niyati Shah, founder of Shotformats the potential of the offline app market is tremendous. “Already, we have sold seven lakh apps. We estimate the offline app market to have an untapped potential of R400-450 crore. The most encouraging point is that we have a repeat usage of 1:4, i.e. on an average the same user has used our apps four times,” she informs.

Currently, homegrown apps that consist mostly of utility and security apps sell the most, but Shah expects sales to grow further with the addition of movies and music. Though, the catalogue is small, including 700 movies across nine languages, and a few popular Hollywood movies, she hopes to add titles as the model gets popular. “It will take time for production houses to see its potential. We are in advanced talks with a major production house for its catalogue, and we expect to announce the acquisition soon,” he adds. The company also offers premium phone security, and third-party insurance on purchase of its premium protection apps.

The downside
While the model seems foolproof against piracy, it doesn’t seem to guarantee permanent usage rights to a buyer. This means that if your phone gets corrupt, or you wish to upgrade to a new phone, you can’t use the same Biscoot app again. You will need to pay for all of it, once again.

Looking ahead
Yet, Shah is optimistic, “We aim to be the largest digital distribution network in India. Now, we sell at 5,000 retail outlets in eight states; our aim is to hit 10,000 retail outlets by this year-end. By 2015, we aim to be present in 40,000 outlets across India.”

A Wi-Fi Biscoot zone
The company is also working on introducing Wi-Fi hotspots at bus stops, and select retail outlets. “Presently, we are test-running mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, which will pop up our Biscoot menu, the moment a user enters the zone. He/she can download any pack (song, apps, movies, SMS packs etc), and activate either using his own account or the retailers account after paying the required amount. This would make things easier,” maintains Manish Kothari, circle head, Shotformats.

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